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Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Psychology Journals Should Make Data Sharing A Requirement For Publication

Psychology journals should require, as a condition for publication, that data supporting the results in the paper are accessible in an appropriate public archive.

I hope that in the near future, the ‘should’ in the previous sentence will disappear, and that data sharing has become a requirement. Many journals already have requirements to share data, but often not in a public database. For example, if you want to publish in Nature:

A condition of publication in a Nature journal is that authors are required to make materials, data, code, and associated protocols promptly available to readers without undue qualifications. Any restrictions on the availability of materials or information must be disclosed to the editors at the time of submission. Any restrictions must also be disclosed in the submitted manuscript.

But even if researchers might be willing to follow such requirements, research shows that it becomes more and more difficult to make data available, as time passes.

Many (85, to be exact) journals have signed DRYAD’s Joint Data Archiving Policy, which does require data to be shared in a public database (and thus stay accessible as time passes). The journals most relevant for psychologists are probably PLOS ONE, the Journal of Consumer Research, and Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B. The JDAP states that:

[Journal] requires, as a condition for publication, that data supporting the results in the paper should be archived in an appropriate public archive, such as [list of approved archives here]. Data are important products of the scientific enterprise, and they should be preserved and usable for decades in the future. Authors may elect to have the data publicly available at time of publication, or, if the technology of the archive allows, may opt to embargo access to the data for a period up to a year after publication. Exceptions may be granted at the discretion of the editor, especially for sensitive information such as human subject data or the location of endangered species.

Exceptions may be granted, but should be explained to the editor when submitting a manuscript. If we look at other disciplines, such as economics, we see people are able to share quite a bit when publishing an article. For example (and this is a completely random pick) in a recent issue of Science (who, just like Nature, did not sign JDAP, but developed their own regulations about data sharing) Sara B. Heller explains how summer jobs reduce violence among disadvantaged youth. Obviously, it’s important to maintain confidentiality when sharing such data, but this is manageable, as we see:

Replication data are posted at the University of Michigan’s ICPSR data depository (http://doi.org/10.3886/E18627V1); see supplementary materials section 1.5 for details.

Here’s the direct link to the read me file of her data: http://www.openicpsr.org/repoEntity/show/20113

If we want science to be cumulative, we need to share our data and materials. This requires extra work and new knowledge about data sharing procedures, which makes it unlikely that the majority of psychologists will make the effort to share data, unless they are required to do so. It is therefore the responsibility of editors at psychology journals to either sign JDAP, or develop their own data sharing requirements.

It is clear the norms around data sharing are quickly changing, aided by technological developments that enable sharing data and materials. Psychology as a discipline seems to me to be lagging behind a little bit. This is not too problematic, because change can be quick and relatively effortless. Almost all universities will have experts that can assist researchers in sharing their data (these are typically surprisingly friendly and knowledgeable people. Our expert at the TU Eindhoven, Leon Osinski, is so nice, he doesn't even mind if you send him an e-mail if he can help you). From 2016 onward, I plan to spend my reviewing time on articles that share materials and data, in line with the data sharing policies at journals like The American Journal of Botany (and many, many others). But 2015 has 365 days to implement data sharing requirements in all psychology journals. So let’s make this our New Year’s resolution.


  1. It is already a requirement for articles published in APA journals.

  2. Just a quick comment and clarification- I was surprised when you mentioned the Journal of Consumer Research as one that requires data sharing. I am familiar with this outlet and the type of work it publishes, and did not see them as being ahead of the game at this point on requiring data sharing.

    So I did a quick check and saw the following on their manuscript submission website (https://www.jcr-admin.org/submit_manuscript.php): "Note: You now have the ability to upload your dataset to a third-party website (http://datadryad.org). You can do this at any time. This is a service that JCR offers to authors, but there is no requirement to post your data on this website. It is your responsibility to ensure that you have received all necessary permissions to publicly post your data. Please contact jcr-admin@ejcr.org if you have any questions."

    Hardly a strict requirement! Totally in agreement with you that such data sharing is necessary for science in general to move forward.

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